Encounters Ben Webster

              Recording Date: 
                  October 16, 1957

                  Ray Brown           B 
                  Herb Ellis            G 
                  Coleman Hawkins TS 
                  Oscar Peterson     P 
                  Alvin Stoller         D 
                  Ben Webster        TS


Review by Jonathon Lindhorst
One of the great studio sessions of the 1950's (and part of a series by producer Norman Granz to pair pianist Oscar Peterson’s trio with great horn players), Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster remains a jazz masterpieces. Musicians back then would often show up and call tunes instead of bringing original compositions to recording sessions. The concept may have been simple, but the performances by Hawkins and Webster, two of the greatest tenor saxophone players in jazz, are incredibly deep. The renditions of certain jazz standards on this classic album some of the most beautiful versions ever put on record.
First is the raunchy “Blues for Yolande,” where the two tenors battle it out through a 6/8 shuffle. Coleman Hawkins proves that he's still the man, honking through the blues with a gruff verve that was emulated by the young rock sax players of the day like King Curtis and Boots Randolph. Listen for the part where Hawkins is literally screaming through his horn, a technique that would later be heavily adopted by free players such Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and Dewey Redman. Webster answers with his typically smooth and plaintive moan, but soon proves that he can growl with the best of them.
This album also features some of the most beautiful ballad playing of both saxophonists career. “It Never Entered my Mind” and “Prisoner of Love” demonstrate both Hawkins' and Webster's distinct but equally gorgeous breathy sounds. Hawkins, the rougher of the two, places a harder inflection and heavier vibrato on every note, while Webster creamily scoops and bends his way into each phrase. It’s as though Hawkins is rising from the earth itself while Webster floats above the proceedings in a cloud.

With the exception of the Latin-tinged groove that drives “La Rosita,” most of this album swings incredibly hard. Tracks like “You'd be So Nice to Come Home To” and “Tangerine” have the kind of feel that just make you just want to tap your foot along with it. While there are very few solos from the rhythm section (indeed the only person to take a solo aside from Webster or Hawkins is Oscar Peterson), so much of the success of this album hinges upon Peterson, Ray Brown on bass, Herb Ellis on guitar, and Alvin Stoller on drums. They prove why they were one of the top call rhythm sections of the 1950's.
Overall, this is a beautifully melodic and sensitive record. Its relaxed pace (it never gets faster than a medium swing) allows the masterful saxophonists to showcase their greatest strengths, namely their deep and distinctive tones and heartfelt interpretations of the melodies. While the album is a saxophone feature all around, the rhythm section provides the rhythmic depth to make the record all the more satisfying. Coleman Hawkins encounters Ben Webster displays a warmth and lyricism that is often lost in modern jazz in favour of complicated rhythms and harmonies. This record definitely goes on my list of essential classic listening.

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